This is how you make a portable installation of Windows 10

Don't you really want to install Windows 10 on your PC, for example because you always want to be able to switch between Windows and Linux? Then you can consider a portable installation of Windows 10. You then install the Microsoft operating system on a USB stick.

Tip 01: stick or disc

You can run Windows from a USB stick. This option offers you several advantages. This way you always have your own Windows environment at hand, and you are less dependent on the computer on which you run Windows. The principle is simple: you don't start the computer from the built-in hard drive, but you use your USB stick (or external hard drive) to boot from. You do need some technical knowledge to realize the portable installation. In this article we give you that; with the right tools you'll be there in no time. For our step-by-step plan you need a USB stick (use at least a capacity of 16 GB).

The type of USB stick strongly determines the speed with which you can install and run Windows on it. So preferably choose a high-speed USB stick, of the USB 3.0 or higher type. You can also use an external hard drive, such as a fast SSD drive, which you connect via USB. Storage media with a USB-C port will of course also suffice. Keep in mind that not every system already has this relatively new connection. All contents on the drive will be deleted if you deploy it to a portable version of Windows, so make sure the data on the storage medium is backed up. So make a backup of the data on the USB stick or disk that you want to use, or use a new storage medium.

Instead of a USB stick, you can also use an external hard drive, on which you place the portable installation of Windows. It doesn't matter which one you use for the rest of the process: you just need to connect a stick or disk to the computer you want to use and select it as the boot medium. Advantages of an external drive are the speed at which Windows works in practice and the usually larger capacity compared to a USB stick.

Tip 02: Which versions

In principle, you can use the relatively modern Windows versions (Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10) in a portable mode. However, there are restrictions for Windows 7, because this operating system cannot be made completely portable. Especially in the area of ​​driver support, Windows 7 can cause problems in a portable installation. You can also only perform the portable installation via a USB2.0 port, because Windows 7 does not have built-in support for USB 3.0 or higher. In addition, support for Windows 7 will soon end. If you opt for a portable installation, try to use Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. We assume a portable installation of Windows 10.

With the right tools, portable installation is easy

Tip 03: ISO file

To use Windows from a USB stick, we need a valid installation of Windows (see box). We will soon be using WinToUSB, which will help us create the stick. This program needs a 'source' with which to create the stick: a Windows installation. There are three options for providing this resource: file-based (such as an iso file), installation DVD-based, and hard drive-based. We choose an iso file. Microsoft has posted the Windows 10 ISO file online. You can download this through a utility. Go to Microsoft's site and click the button Download utility now. Start the program and click Next one. After you have agreed to the terms of use, choose in the next screen for Create installation media (USB stick, DVD or ISO file) for another PC. click on Next one.

Tip 04: Choose version

In the next screen you indicate which version of Windows you want to download. The utility itself has already selected the default options. If you want to choose yourself, uncheck the option Use the recommended options for this PC. Add Language the desired language version and choose at Architecture for the 32- or 64-bit version. We opt for the 64-bit edition. Are you satisfied with the selection? click on Next one. In the next window you determine that Windows should be downloaded as an ISO file. Therefore choose the second option – ISO file – and click Next one. Specify a save location for the file and choose Save. You will soon need the location to indicate to WinToUSB where Windows is ready. The Windows version is downloaded and saved as iso.

Get a license

Make sure you have a valid Windows license that you can use for the installation on the USB stick. The version of Windows on the USB stick counts as a full Windows installation, so a valid license is required.

Tip 05: Other ISOs

You may not want to use Windows 10, but an earlier version such as Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. A developer has created a program that allows you to quickly download the correct iso files. This Windows & ISO Download Tool keeps overviews of the iso files and lets you easily choose the desired version via the program. Go to and get the latest version. Once installed and opened, the tool will show you some tabs on the right. On the first tab – Windows – you choose which Windows version you want to install, for example Windows 10. In the window on the left, choose the desired edition, after which you click Confirm. Also choose the language of the Windows version, and click again Confirm. In the right part of the window you will find buttons with which you can copy the download link, for example to download the iso files via the browser.

Choose which Windows version you install

Tip 06: Prepare stick

Now it is important to make the USB stick suitable to use to start the computer. Various 'schemes' are possible; which one you choose depends on the type of computer you use. For our step-by-step plan, we arrange the external stick in such a way that it works on as many computers as possible. We use an mbr partition for this. Open the Start menu and type diskmgmt.msc. click on OK. The Disk Management window opens. In the upper part of the window you will find an overview of available disks. In between you will also find the hard disk of the computer. Now search for the USB stick and select it. Right click on the partition (at the bottom of the window) and choose Delete volume. Make sure all partitions are deleted. Then right click on the drive and choose Convert to MBR Disk. Then create a new partition on the USB stick: right-click on the disk and choose Simple volume. Go through the steps of the wizard and create a new partition.

System partitions and boot partitions

A partition is a defined area on a disk. Partitions have a technical function, but can also ensure order. For example, you can organize a drive with a partition for your data, and a separate partition for the operating system. A system partition is the primary partition used as the active partition. A disk can have only one system partition. Windows is installed on the boot partition. It contains, among other things, the Windows files folder. One partition can be both a system and a boot partition.

Tip 07: WinToUSB

We use the WinToUSB program for our step-by-step plan. As the name implies, this program helps put Windows on a USB stick. Get the latest version. Several editions are available; try out the functions first via the free version. After installation, start the software via the Start menu: type WinToUsb and click on the program.

WinToUSB is available in several versions, including a free edition. As you have read, you can try this one to familiarize yourself with the concept. However, you will soon run into limitations in the free edition. For example, at the time of writing it does support the creation of a Windows 10 installation, but the creation of a stick based on the latest version (1809) is reserved for the Professional edition. You pay approximately 30 euros for this, including lifetime updates. We therefore recommend this version. On you will find an overview of the differences.

WinToUSB helps you make a portable installation

Tip 08: Designate ISO

The program is made up of two parts. On the left you will find three buttons for three ways in which you can place Windows on a USB stick: via an ISO file, via an installation DVD or via a hard drive. We click on the first button. In the right part of the window you indicate where the iso file is located. Press the button To leaf through and point to the iso file. An iso file can contain multiple Windows versions. WinToUSB then opens the file and checks which Windows versions you can install with it. A list of available installations appears (in the Select the operating system you want to install. Select the Windows version you want to put on the USB stick (for example Windows 10 Home) and click Next one.

Tip 09: Place on stick

In the next window you indicate where Windows should be installed. Of course this is our USB stick. At the option Choose the target disk select the correct USB stick. If WinToUSB offers to format the USB stick, choose this. click on Yes. In the next screen you indicate where the system partition and the boot partition are located. These are colored red. Choose at Installation mode in front of Traditional. Then click Next one. WinToUSB will now install the Windows version on the USB stick. Patience is a virtue. Depending on the Windows version, the external drive or stick used and the computer, the installation can take up to an hour. The USB stick is then ready for use.

Don't forget to change the computer's boot order

Tip 10: Boot Order

In order to use Windows from a USB stick, the computer must boot from that USB stick. You can control this in the computer's BIOS settings. Restart the computer and use the hotkey to enter the bios settings. The exact hotkey differs per computer, for example F10 or F8. Go to the Boot Settings in the bios and choose to let the computer boot from usb. The exact steps vary by computer manufacturer and BIOS version. Search for terms like Boat Order (Boot Order) and make sure the USB device is at the top of the Boot Order list. Save the changes and restart the computer using the external stick.

Now it's time to test your portable installation of Windows. Connect the external USB stick or external drive to the computer and restart the computer. It should now boot from the external media. If the disk does not start, check the boot order of devices in the computer's bios and make sure you have created and selected the correct boot partition.

Help and advice

On the website of the makers of WinToUSB you will find a large number of practical advice and help for situations where you run into problems. You can also read about the different partitions on the website, and in which situation you choose a specific partition. It is advisable to view this site if Windows does not want to start from your USB stick.

portable apps

Not only can you run your operating system on a USB stick, but also apps. You don't have to install the software on your computer: with portable apps you only need a USB stick or some cloud storage. Which programs are suitable for this? What are the options and what are the limitations? In this article, we'll take a closer look at that.

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